Artist Mark Dion discussed his work “Waiting for the Extraordinary,” which was influenced by the original blueprint of the University of Michigan, Wednesday night at the Penny Stamps Speaker Series at the University of Michigan Museum of Art.
The event was part of a series and was held in collaboration between the Institute for Humanities and the UMMA with the goal of showcasing the innovation and art that exists across a wide range of disciplines.
Dion is an internationally lauded artist whose work centers on the interplay between public institutions and our understanding of the world. Dion’s current installation at the Institute for Humanities is a restaging of his original work, “Waiting for the Extraordinary,” which was commissioned by the University in 2011.
In his lecture, Dion cited University founder Augustus Woodward as the inspiration behind the original piece. Dion said the distinctive language devised by Woodward to explain the 13 disciplines he believed the University should be organized around caught his attention.
“He was absolutely fascinated by mixing Latin and Greek, as though they were cars approaching each other 60 miles an hour and crashing in the middle,” Dion said.
Amanda Krugliak, curator for the Institute for the Humanities, emphasized the sense of whimsy and spontaneity in Dion’s work while retelling her experience accompanying Dion on his initial research in 2011.
“(It was an) expedition as a treasure hunt,” she said. “This huge university of systems and silos and rules and rigmaroles suddenly felt surprisingly intimate. As if everything was possible. Maybe we would never have found what Dion was looking for if it hadn’t been such an adventure, a leap of faith and sometimes a cliffhanger.”
The 2011 piece featured a three-dimensional waiting room for Woodward’s office, which Dion explained had “all the charm of the department of motor vehicles.” The room was furnished with blue pleather chairs and obscure magazines. It was monitored by a jaded receptionist, uninterested in helping those who entered. Those visitors who sustained the seemingly endless wait were allowed to enter the office of Woodward — a dark room with glow-in-the-dark objects, each representing one of the 13 areas of knowledge.
Seven years later, as the Institute for Humanities celebrates the Bicentennial with the yearlong theme “Archives and Futures,” Dion was invited back to the University to restage “Waiting for the Extraordinary.”
The restaged piece is an imagination of the exterior of the original waiting room for Woodward’s office. The three-dimensional cube is fashioned with wall moldings, a door, coat hooks and several clocks matching the time zones of the locations Dion inhabits.
Krugliak said the restaged piece is designed to “serve as an archive of the original, a glance back, moving forward.”
Dion then moved away from speaking about Ann Arbor in the lecture and discussed his work reimagining “follies,” which he defines as an 18th- or 19th-century building designed to produce a specific situation. Dion has created “follies” encouraging visitors to interact with the environment in destinations ranging from Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge to the mountains of Norway.
LSA junior Julia McMahon attended the lecture and said she was captivated by the trust Dion has for those who enjoy his artwork.
“I did like how trustworthy he was of people,” she said. “I think a lot of people have a negative outlook of others … and he had a positive outlook on life, which I think he presented in his artwork.”